Search Engine Optimizing

January 29, 2006 - 2:00am ||| 0 Comments | Add new

[A longer post in response to a message from a GoLive listserv member in December.]

Subscriber Post (partial quote, it was a long message):

"I'm about to start a new site and would LIKE to optimize it for search engines, particularly Google (since most folks these days seem to think it's the most important). […] I was hoping for something along the lines of a few relatively unbiased recommendations from people with recent experience."

My Reply:

First, forget keywords. The old "keyword meta tags" thing doesn't work well anymore. Because of nefarious people taking advantage of search engine's attention to keyword meta tags, only a couple search engines actually pay attention to those these days.

Google is one 500-pound gorilla example that does NOT take keyword meta tags into account, and Google is not only the most popular search engine, they are the licensed technology behind a few other search engines and directories.

Top things that increase a site's ranking without paying for sponsored listings:
1. Popularity (how many other sites link to it)
2. Title tag — the title of the browser window (contains search term)
3. Body copy near top of page (contains search term.. header-formatted etc. and/or bolded and/or linked search terms in body copy are given more weight than plain text)… note in a multi-column format, the left-most column is "nearest the top"
4. Body copy anywhere (contains search term)
5. Alt tags (hidden text identifying images) for images (contain search term)
6. Page was updated recently

Combinations of 2-5 are most powerful.

There are 2 things you and/or your client can do to increase search engine pickup (in addition to the usual tips for adding ALT tags and staying away from frames, etc.):

1. Come up with page titles and write the body copy with item #s 2-5 (above) in mind. Think of what people may enter in search engines as a search term, and incorporate that into the page title, the headline of the story, the first paragraph of the story, can you put it in bold, can you repeat it, etc. Of course you want to have excellent writing… don't make it sound awkward just to jam search terms in there… but keep it in mind.

2. Get as many other web sites as possible to link to your site (item #1 above).

Ideally a) The sites themselves are popular with your target audience… but any sites are better than no sites; b) The link to your site would appear in their most popular page(s) such as their home page or a section opener page(s); and c) The link to your site would be in bold and would contain your domain name AND search terms.

Here are some examples of what I mean (underlined _words_ represent the linked text):

Least powerful:
Acme.com, from our friends at Client Company, provides top quality products. Click _here_ to visit.

Better:
_Acme.com,_ from our friends at Client Company, provides top quality products..

Best:
_Acme.com,_ from our friends at Client Company, provides top quality _gizmos_, _gadgets_, _gew-gaws_, (etc., with each one linking to that specific interior page).

[…and the names of those product links should be *what your target audience is typing into search engines* not your own in-house jargon or special industry language.]

In sum, for the most complete and current info on search engine optimization, go to:
<http://www.searchenginewatch.com>

They have free info, and info you can only get if you pay for a subscription. Also some great forums there populated by people like you and me (trying to get our sites up there).

Also check out Google's info for webmasters:
<http://www.google.com/webmasters/>

… deals with what effects a site's ranking as far as Google is concerned…very useful.

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